DR Congo

In response to cholera and polio epidemics the DRC Government and its partners launch a call for action

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KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 8 July 2011 - In response to an amplification of the recent cholera outbreak and the registration of new cases of the wild poliovirus (WPV), the Minister of Public Health and its partners from WHO and UNICEF reiterate the importance of preventive measures at the individual and collective level.

The cholera outbreak began in March 2011 in the city of Kisangani (Eastern Province), where it affected 1.449 people and caused 74 deaths. Then it spread along the river into Equateur with 525 cases including 44 deaths, 1,223 cases in Bandundu including 66 deaths and 35 cases in Kinshasa with 6 deaths. From early June to 7 July 2011, the epidemic has reached 1.783 people and caused 116 victims.

Faced with the risk of a massive spread of cholera, the two main concerns are access to safe drinking water through a sustainable development of water infrastructure to be provided by the Government, as well as hygiene and sanitation action to be observed by everyone. "Health begins in each family. Five measures must become a routine for all of us: 1) Wash hands with soap before eating and after using the toilet, 2) Use proper latrines, 3) Eat only thoroughly cooked, hot foods, 4) Boil drinking water when there is uncertainty about its quality and 5) Do not handle the corpses of people who died from cholera, "said Dr. Victor Makwenge Kaput, Minister of Public Health, during a press briefing on 8 July at the Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI) in Kinshasa.

At the same occasion, the Minister thanked its partners from the health sector for their continued support in the fight against those epidemics that are currently affecting the Congolese population. "The consolidated figures of the last Local Immunization Days against Polio, organized in June 2011, clearly demonstrate the commitment of all stakeholders to eradicate this disease and many other from Congolese soil. Vaccination is an act of love and a vaccination coverage rate of 106 percent shows that this is gradually understood by parents and health workers, "said Dr. Makwenge Kaput. However the registration of new cases of the wild poliovirus, bringing the cumulative total to 62 cases on July 7, 2011, "also illustrates that the fight to eradicate is far from being over," he added.

"Vaccination is the most effective way to protect against polio and to consolidate this protection, vaccination must be repeated several times said Dr. Léodégal Bazira, Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the DRC, adding regarding Cholera "the best protection against cholera is access to safe drinking water as well as individual and collective hygiene applied in everyday life."

For its part, the Representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Ms. Pierrette Vu Thi stressed the complementarity of social mobilization, behavior change and governmental contributions to any progress that aims for sustainability. "It is important that people are aware of the importance of hand washing and the sanitation of their immediate environment. But these precautionary actions will not succeed without the provision of drinking water. We have an individual and collective responsibility to protect all children from disease, "she insisted.

To contain cholera, several measures are being implemented. To be mentioned in particular are 1) a mass awareness campaign to promote hygiene, 2) the establishment of water chlorination points in areas at risk and 3) free treatment of cholera patients. In addition, a gradual integration of affected health zones in the "Healthy Village" program was initiated to ensure the link between water infrastructures, sanitation and hygiene measures at the individual and collective level.

For further information please contact:
Cornelia Walther, Head of Communication, UNICEF DRC, + 243 818846746, cwalther@unicef.org
Eugene Kabambi, Communications Officer, WHO DRC, +243 817151697, kabambie@cd.afro.who.int